Using Your Judgement: Being an Informed and Heard Voter

This week’s blog was written by Alison Kaplan, SCY’s Graduate Intern. Alison is studying to get her master’s degrees in social work and public health. She works with the JJC and assists with policy projects within SCY. 

This year has been heavy. With the onset of COVID-19 nearly 8 months ago and the continuation of systemic racism and police brutality on Black and Brown people in this country, the 2020 election feels like just another weight to add to the pile. This election is unprecedented and like nothing we have seen before, at least during my lifetime. Against the backdrop of the two pandemics our country is experiencing, it feels even more important. Voting feels powerful to me; it is a way to use my voice and have an impact on my community. I say this, however, with the understanding that as a white woman, I am benefiting from white privilege in our current societal system. Voter suppression, disenfranchisement, purges and gerrymandering predominately impact communities of color, specifically the Black and Latinx communities. I recognize that this issue is not as simple as “voting” versus “not voting,” and that there are attempts to deliberately silence the voices of people of color. However, I do still hold onto the idea that voting can be used as a tool to fight back against these suppressive acts. Specifically, I start to think about the impact we can make as voters when we pay attention to the races that are not as publicized. Often, when I have conversations about the upcoming election, I find that one place on the ballot where our influence is forgotten is with judges.

The first time I went to vote, I remember being surprised at the length of the ballot. At the time, I likely was not even aware of judicial elections. There were so many names that I had never seen or heard before; it was overwhelming. Now, after having participated in a few elections since then, I dedicate some time before heading out to vote to become a more informed, prepared voter.

As you likely already know, judges hold great decision-making power when it comes to fundamental issues that impact all of us. These decisions can have long-lasting impacts on our lives and the lives of those in our communities. We, as voters, have the power to influence who will be on the bench making those decisions. If you’re like me, it can be overwhelming to do the research required to become a more informed judicial voter. Luckily, there great resources out there where the information is already complied into clear, informative, impartial guides. Here are some of the ones I like to use.

First is the Judicial Election Guide put out by Injustice Watch, a non-partisan, not-for-profit journalism organization exposing institutional failures that obstruct justice and equality. This guide provides in-depth biographical and notable information, ratings from three bar associations (Chicago Bar Association, Chicago Council of Lawyers, and Illinois State Bar Association), previous articles/coverage written by Injustice Watch about the judges and any flags the candidates might have such as past controversies or negative ratings. This guide is interactive, detailed, and provides a sample ballot to save or print to take with you to the polls.

Another good resource is the Illinois State Bar Association website. They provide ratings (highly qualified, qualified, or not recommended) and narrative information on Cook County judges and judges outside of Cook County. I like this guide because it is very straightforward with the information provided.

Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, an organization that believes everyone should have equal access to justice and fair treatment under the law, also has a detailed website called which provides in-depth judicial evaluation information. They have compiled results from 12 different bar associations in Illinois with their recommendations on sitting judges running for retention, Illinois Supreme and Appellate Court candidates looking to fill vacancies, and Cook County Circuit Court and Subcircuit candidates looking to fill vacancies. Reports done by the individual bar associations and media outlets are also provided. This source, too, is very comprehensive and user-friendly.

Finally, the Chicago Bar Association provides its judicial voters’ guide which evaluates sitting judges running for retention or to fill vacancies. This guide provides a recommendation of highly qualified, qualified, or not recommended for these judges.  There is also a printable summary guide that can be taken to the voting booth. This one is very similar to the Illinois State Bar Association and is very clear and succinct.

As a reminder, eligible Illinois voters can register online until October 18th and then can register at a polling place thereafter until November 3rd as part of the grace period. In Illinois, returning citizens who have completed their sentences (who also meet the other voter eligibility requirements) ARE eligible to register and vote in Illinois. This includes those on parole or probation. Additionally, eligible voters who are in jail awaiting trial (pre-trial detainees) are also eligible to vote. For additional information about voter registration, polling place locations and accessibility, early voting, mail-in voting, or any other questions, please visit the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners or Illinois State Board of Elections. Finally, for information about your rights as a voter in Illinois, please visit ACLU-Illinois Know Your Rights.

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